Responding to the needs of a rapidly-changing benefits industry, the National Association for Insurance and Financial Advisors has launched a new initiative aimed at reinventing its role as an advocate for advisers. Its five-year strategic plan, dubbed NAIFA 20/20, aims to make the association a more effective resource for an increasingly diverse membership facing some challenging regulatory burdens.

In October, NAIFA elected as its new president, Jules Gaudreau, Jr., of the Gaudreau Group, Inc., in Wilbraham, Mass. Gaudreau became president after serving one-year terms as president-elect and secretary. As the association’s new head, he will spearhead the initial efforts of NAIFA 20/20 and help shape the new face of NAIFA.

Gaudreau spoke with EBA about his priorities in his new role and what’s coming up for NAIFA in 2016 and beyond.

What are your top priorities while working at NAIFA?

Advocacy. We advocate for our members and help them build their practices, but just as important is helping them protect that practice. We want to make sure that we advocate not just for our members, but also the consumers and their right to deal with our members. There are a number of proposals, such as the DOL’s proposed fiduciary rule, that jeopardize that access to qualified and impartial advice from our members. That’s the big thing. We will work to fix it where it is unworkable for our members and consumers, perhaps with a legislative fix. We’ll also help our members understand and comply with the new rule. There’s no doubt there will be parts of the rule that we cannot change, but we will work with the DOL and anybody else who is listening. We will explain that this proposal as it stands now will dramatically impact, as it has done in many cases in other countries, the access of consumers to qualified financial advice, particularly for middle-income Americans.

We’ll also maintain continued vigilance on any tax reform proposals that would change the way our products are treated. We feel they are appropriately treated now and it’s something we fought for for a long time, because we believe it gives incentives to Americans to engage in the right type of financial activity, so that they’re not reliant on the government should they live too long, die too soon, or become disable before retirement.

We will continue to educate members of Congress about the importance of our products and the financial impact that our industry has in America in terms of jobs, protection and investments in America’s economy, and the importance that our members play in the communities they serve.

Strategic planning: NAIFA 20/20

We’re also engaged in our strategic plan process, NAIFA 20/20. One of the components is a situational analysis, where we look at where our industry stands now. We will look at not only where advisers will be in 2020, or where firms will be in 2020, but where does NAIFA fit in 2020 to serve the needs of our members. That means we have a great diversity and inclusion initiative and an awareness initiative. Those are all parts of NAIFA 20/20.

We’re also going to reach out to all stakeholders in the industry to whom NAIFA is an important component of their business model: insurance companies, brokerage firms, independent advisers, non-members of NAIFA, members of the broker community and regulatory community. We’ll be reaching out to all those people to get their opinion about what NAIFA should look like in 2020 and beyond.

This process started a few weeks ago and will continue through February.

NAIFA is also drafting proposals for ways to dramatically increase our non-dues revenue; and creating more focused programming so we can deliver a more consistent and compelling member value proposition.

What are some of the top challenges facing advisers today?

The regulatory climate: Virtually every state is looking in one way shape or form to further regulate the industry, whether it’s for the protection of senior consumers, or continuing education, or compliance issues. There are so many different things. We are the only insurance agent association in our space that has a presence in every single state capital that works with regulators, not just legislators.

What we’re seeing is more and more public policy falling into the domain of the regulators. So, it’s very important that NAIFA is at the table when these proposals are being developed.

Diversity and inclusion: Diversity means a lot of different things and at the beginning for us it meant mostly young advisers. But just recently we have signed a joint agreement with the Women in Insurance and Financial Services, which is a counterpart that serves the female advisers market. They’ve signed an agreement with NAIFA to assist in advocating on issues that are important to them. That was the second part of diversity. But, you know, this industry is so primarily male and white and we need to help this industry retain more advisers. We need to retain more people and attract more people by being more reflective of America. We need to have greater outreach to diverse communities. We want to be able to provide within NAIFA, communities that people want to belong to. That means a deeper dive into diverse cultures that will compose our clients certainly, and hopefully our industry, as well, in the future.

A big part of our NAIFA 20/20 is a diversity initiative. 

How can the industry attract and retain young advisers?

We have to recognize that millennials are like any other group; they want to be part of a community. We find that millennials are joiners and are more reflective of the attitudes of their grandparents. They are looking for meaning and value. They are looking for fun and having interesting experiences. So how do we provide that? We have to provide opportunities for communities like that to come together.

We have a big young advisers task force and they are very active in many cities in the U.S. 

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